Lecturer wrote the book on te reo resources

21 July 2014

John Moorfield

Professor of Maori Development: John Moorfield.

It wasn’t an auspicious beginning to an academic career when John Moorfield started work at the University of Waikato.

Pioneers and leaders in teaching te reo Māori

“I was scared of being a lecturer, I didn’t know what to do,” he says.

That was in 1976, when Moorfield answered the call from Tīmoti Kāretu and joined the ranks of te reo Māori teaching staff at the University.

Joining Moorfield and Kāretu were Te Wharehuia Milroy and Hirini Melbourne.

“We were a great team. We did some good things I thought.”

The achievements of Kāretu, Milroy and the late Melbourne are well documented and they are rightly hailed as pioneers and leaders in the teaching and revitalisation of te reo Māori.

Moorfield’s role is less well known but no less important.

It’s his name which appears on the spine of the four books in the seminal texts Te Whanake: Te Kākano, Te Pihinga, Te Māhuri and Te Kōhure.

Google ‘Māori dictionary’ and it’s Moorfield’s which comes up first.

There are audio resources, podcasts, study guides and much more which have the Moorfield name and which owe their existence to a Pākehā boy from Te Kauwhata who got turned on to te reo while attending St Stephen’s School in Bombay.

Teaching stints throughout New Zealand

He had been enrolled at Whanganui Collegiate but was given a choice and “I chose the one closer to home”.

“Dad was always receptive to Māori things and had a big library of Māori books so it didn’t seem unusual.”

It may not be but it’s remarkable that Moorfield became so interested in te reo he decided to continue his studies when he left school.

“Hoani Waititi was my teacher at St Stephen’s. He just got me hooked on the language,” Moorfield says.

“I went on to Auckland University and the main reason I went was to learn a bit more about the language. There were people like Bruce Biggs, Pat Hohepa, Hugh Kawharau, George Ngata, they were all there.”

Te reo was still a fledgling University subject and Moorfield was among the first intake of students able to take it at Stage Three level.

There followed a stint at teacher’s college, where the lack of te reo teaching positions saw him teaching geography and social studies.

It was there he met wife Sue, a French teacher.

“I picked up things they were doing in terms of teaching language.”

He had teaching stints at Ngaruawahia, Wesley and Tuakau before moving to the University.

“I was teaching mainly first and second year students. The main resource we had was Te Rangatahi, which was a book for school kids, not adults. “

The late 1970s was a time of transformation in New Zealand culture.

Women’s Studies was a growth area at Waikato and it didn’t take long for students to rebel about the inadequacy of resources.

“We got some flak from students who said they were sexist. The boys had the fun, the girls were in the kitchen. They were also largely rural based and students were saying ‘but we live in the city’.

He’d already started compiling audio resources for students “and I thought I’d better start writing some books”.

“I did a lot of reading about language teaching and the audio-lingual method was popular then. There was more emphasis on speaking the language, not just writing, and I developed ideas to be a better teacher. I made resources for students to use at home, and that way I could maximise the time I had with them, because there was never enough time.”

Creating a structured programme

Moorfield was also behind the development of the Te Tohu Paetahi Programme, and credits former Vice-Chancellor Wilf Malcolm for supporting its introduction.

“He came to a meeting with us and asked if we were happy with the quality of the language of our graduates and we said no. Te Tohu Paetahi grew out of that.”

Moorfield spent 21 years teaching at the University of Waikato, before moving to Otago for ten years. He now works at AUT, where he’s Professor of Maori Development.

He says teaching te reo now does not suffer from a lack of resources. In fact, one of his latest projects is creating a programme to pull together the myriad online resources into a structured programme.

“It was pretty hard when we had no resources. I was always quite envious of those Spanish, German or French teachers because of the resources they had available to them. Now we are up with them, and might even be better.”

It’s nothing he did on his own, of course, and Moorfield says Kāretu, Milroy, Melbourne and other Te Tari Māori staff helped immensely.

“If I ever had a question, they were always there and always open with their knowledge. I was lucky to have access to those guys and I’m quite proud of what we did. Maximising access to the language, that’s what it was always about.”

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